Illinois had a law making it a
crime to publish anything that implied the "depravity, criminality,
unchastity, or lack of virtue of a class of citizens of any race, color,
creed or religion" which exposes those people "to contempt,
derision or obloquy or which is productive of breach of the peace or
That's known as a group
libel law, because it's basically
libel, but directed towards an entire class of people, as opposed to just
Beauharnais was worried about
minorities moving into his neighborhood, so he published a leaflet
claiming that African-Americans were violent, rapists, robbers, and drug
Beauharnais was arrested and
convicted of violating the Illinois law. He appealed.
Beauharnais argued that the 1st
Amendment gave him the right to say
what he wanted to say. Therefore the Illinois law was an
unconstitutional infringement of freedom of speech.
The US Supreme Court upheld
The US Supreme Court noted
that certain forms of speech (including libel) were not constitutional protected.
See Chaplinsky v. New
Hampshire (315 U.S. 568 (1942)).
The Court found that group
libel is still libel, and is therefore not constitutionally
protected under the 1st Amendment.
Although this case has never
been overruled, it is debatable as to whether or not it is still good law.
The decision rested on the
assumption that libel is 100% unprotected speech. But later cases,
including New York Times v. Sullivan
(376 U.S.254 (1964)) have implied that libel and hate speech do have some
degree of 1st Amendment protection.